As homeschoolers, reading is the most foundational and important skill that we will teach our children; however, we must think beyond simply teaching our students how to read and also understand all the parts that comprise a solid language arts curriculum.

What Does Language Arts Mean?

“Language arts” is a broad term that refers to all the components of both written and spoken language, used to express thoughts and ideas. In addition to reading and comprehension, a complete language arts curriculum should also include grammar, spelling, handwriting, vocabulary, composition, and public speaking.

Language Arts in the Elementary Grades

In the early years (ages 5 through 8) reading, spelling, handwriting, and basic grammar and vocabulary skills should be taught. Reading comprehension can be learned through simple narration exercises such as having your child tell you back a brief summary of what they read or what was read to them.

As children mature developmentally, usually around grade 4, they can begin learning the more complex language skills of composition, sentence diagramming, and more advanced spelling and vocabulary words. In the upper elementary years, students are usually able to begin writing creatively using their original thoughts, but this skill may take through the middle school years and beyond to achieve. The upper elementary years (grades 4, 5, and 6) are when students typically transition from learning to read to now reading to learn.

Language Arts in Middle School

Grades 7 and 8 are transitional years. By this time, students should be proficient in grammar and spelling and can begin focusing on acquiring the writing skills that will be required for high school. It is not uncommon for some students to struggle with these skills through middle school. In this case, additional spelling and grammar exercises can be practiced as needed. In these years it’s best to take time to shore up any gaps in basic language arts skills and to introduce more advanced writing assignments such as book reports, summary writing, the outline, and the five paragraph essay.

Language Arts in High School

By grade 9, no further formal grammar and spelling instruction need necessarily be included, provided the student has an adequate command of these skills. In the high school years, the language arts focus should turn to analyzing and comprehending more complex language and literature, as well as acquiring the writing skills that will be needed in college and real life.

There are many types of composition, but the high school student should at the very least learn how to write the following: outlines, research papers, literary analysis papers, different type of essays, beginning with a basic 5 paragraph essay, but also including the compare and contrast, analytical, persuasive, informative, descriptive, and test-taking essays. Additional types of writing that can be covered are speeches, short stories, fiction, creative writing, biographical writing, newspaper articles, poetry, and plays.

Language Arts Across Grade Levels

Vocabulary is a subject that can be included all the way through 12th grade and even beyond! As an adult, I’m still learning new words. There is curriculum available to teach vocabulary, but it can just as well be learned in context through exposing your student to a wide variety of literature throughout their entire education.

Public speaking can also be taught across all grades. In the early years, to practice oral presentation skills and speaking in complete sentences, young students can do show and tell or recite Scripture verses or poetry. In the upper elementary years students might orally share book reports or other writing assignments with the family. Presenting speeches and essays can help middle and high school students gain important public speaking and communication skills that will be needed in life.

3 Approaches to Language Arts Instruction

There are several different ways to go about teaching language arts in your homeschool. Here are a few options:

1. Literature Based

This integrated approach seeks to cover all the components of language mastery in the context of quality literature. By reading interesting books and stories, students are able to learn the elements of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, writing mechanics, research, and other skills. Some literature based language arts curriculum also includes instruction in phonics to teach reading.

Using this method, younger students learn by doing copywork, narration, and dictation exercises.

Copywork is writing down a selected passage exactly as it appears in the text. Several skills are learned and reinforced through copywork: punctuation, spelling, handwriting, and the grammar and rhythm of good writing. It also helps with reading comprehension as students spend time slowly thinking and interacting with the material.

Narration is the art of summarizing and telling back the most important points from a reading passage. The ability to “tell back” helps improve speaking and thinking skills.

Dictation is when a parent reads a passage while the student practices listening skills and writes down what is said, taking care to include proper punctuation and spelling.

Additional language arts activities using this method also include: learning vocabulary in context, answering discussion questions, memorizing poetry, and practicing editing exercises.

In the middle and high school years increasingly challenging literature is used to teach all components of language arts and the skills of analyzation, critical thinking, research, and various types of writing.

Pros: Covers a wide range of language arts skills, exposes students to great literature, language integration studied in context, minimal resources required, great way to teach reading comprehension, engaging for students, inexpensive.

Cons: May need to include separate phonics curriculum to teach reading. Not enough methodical repetition and review of concepts, might not be challenging enough in higher grades, can feel disorganized.

Curriculum/resources:

2. All in One Curriculum

An all in one curriculum combines the teaching of all language arts components together using textbooks and consumable workbooks, or worktexts. Students complete various exercises and assignments for acquisition and reinforcement of skills.

Some families prefer this method because it is straightforward, comprehensive, and usually well organized, minimizing potential learning gaps. This all in one language arts approach may require the purchase of an additional teacher’s edition in order to help parents teach content. Most all in one language arts curriculum cover all components, although some will include different texts or workbooks for each concept.

Pros: Easy to implement, assess progress, and grade, comprehensive, organized, less likely to have gaps in learning.

Cons: Too much review, drill, and testing, can be uninteresting or overwhelming, expensive.

Curriculum/resources:

3. Each Component Separately

All the parts of language arts can also be covered using separate curriculum for each component. For instance, you would use one curriculum to teach spelling, a different one to teach vocabulary, and so on. This can work well for those who wish to custom make an individual education plan for each of their students. All students learn differently and one size does not fit all, especially when it comes to learning spelling and writing.

Pros: Offers in-depth coverage of each language arts component, gives homeschooling parents the option of customizing a complete curriculum, can help parents focus on individual parts where a student might struggle.

Cons: May be challenging to keep up with too much curriculum to schedule, teach, and grade, could get expensive.

Curriculum/resources:

Teaching our children to read well is primary in establishing a strong educational foundation, but helping them secure a command of the nuances of the English language is also essential. Language is so incredibly vital for communication. Being able to communicate both orally and in writing will enable our children to read, study, and comprehend God’s Word, establish meaningful relationships with others, express and share their faith, work a job, have a successful career, and more. There is almost no facet of their lives that won’t require some form of communication. Mastery of language will open up the world to them, helping them gain knowledge and make significant contributions to our world. Give your children a solid language arts education, and there’s no telling all the places they may go!

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Mary Ellen is a devoted follower of Christ, wife to a wonderful husband, and mother to three amazing people. She is a passionate advocate for home education and loves to encourage and empower others to give it a try. A life-long learner herself, she appreciates all the incredible educational and faith-building opportunities homeschooling has afforded her family. Mary Ellen holds a bachelor's degree in Missions and Bible. In addition to homeschooling, she currently serves as a part-time missionary alongside her husband. She loves photography, spending time at the ocean, reading, and watching British mysteries.